Mids’ de­fense rises to the oc­ca­sion

Unit pro­duces three turnovers in row dur­ing sec­ond half

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - NAVY 31, TU­LANE 14 BY GENE WANG gene.wang@wash­post.com

The Navy foot­ball team’s nor­mally pro­duc­tive triple-op­tion of­fense didn’t get started in earnest un­til the fourth quar­ter Satur­day. For­tu­nately for the Mid­ship­men, its de­fense was un­re­lent­ing for vir­tu­ally the en­tire game dur­ing a 31-14 win against heavy un­der­dog Tu­lane on an over­cast af­ter­noon at Navy-Marine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

That unit forced three con­sec­u­tive turnovers in the sec­ond half and pro­duced a crit­i­cal stop with the Green Wave two yards from the end zone. Quar­ter­back Keenan Reynolds, mean­while, ran for a pair of touch­downs, in­clud­ing a one-yarder for a 17point buf­fer, to move within two rush­ing touch­downs of the ca­reer record (77) for ma­jor-col­lege foot­ball play­ers.

Reynolds all but sealed the out­come on his sec­ond touch­down with 3 min­utes 38 sec­onds left in the game on the pos­ses­sion fol­low­ing team­mate Lorentez Bar­bour’s in­ter­cep­tion. The se­nior safety made a slid­ing catch on quar­ter­back Tan­ner Lee’s throw over the mid­dle, and the Mid­ship­men got the ball at the Tu­lane 36-yard line with 8:33 to play in front of an ap­pre­cia­tive home­com­ing crowd of 32,033.

“A win’s a win, Dog,” Navy Coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said, re­count­ing a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween team­mates he over­heard while walk­ing into the locker room. “That’s the ap­proach I’m tak­ing. We knew they were go­ing to be tough in­te­rior-wise de­fen­sively. We saw that com­ing. They played re­ally good de­fen­sively, had a re­ally good plan. We knew it was go­ing to be tough sled­ding.”

Navy (5-1, 3-0) re­mained one of three un­beaten teams in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence West Divi­sion, along with No. 18 Mem­phis and No 21 Hous­ton, in its first tri­umph with more pass­ing yards (158) than rush­ing (133) since a 31-17 win against Army in 2010. Reynolds led the Mid­ship­men in rush­ing with 38 yards on 23 car­ries, end­ing a ca­reer-best four games in a row with at least 100 yards.

Among the most im­por­tant se­quences un­folded with Tu­lane (2-5, 1-3), trail­ing by 10, at the Navy 2 early in the fourth quar­ter. On third and one, Lee tried a sneak, but line­backer Daniel Gonzales popped the ball loose with his hel­met, and de­fen­sive end Will An­thony re­cov­ered at the 1. It was the first forced fum­ble of Gonzales’s ca­reer and An­thony’s fifth re­cov­ery.

“Dur­ing half­time we had a good talk­ing-to,” An­thony said. “It was a real punch in the throat for me. It was a re­al­ity check, like we need to turn this game up. Sec­ond half, it took us a while to get our­selves rolling, but def­i­nitely we had some guys on the side­line mak­ing sure we turned it up out there.”

The only points of the third quar­ter came cour­tesy of full­back Quentin Ezell’s nine-yard run through a hole on the left side to ex­tend the lead to 17-7. The se­nior’s fifth touch­down of the sea­son con­cluded a sev­en­play se­ries over 66 yards and last­ing 3:02. The Mid­ship­men con­verted two third downs dur­ing the pos­ses­sion, in­clud­ing wide re­ceiver Thomas Wil­son’s nine-yard catch on third and seven.

The scor­ing drive came fol­low­ing a change of pos­ses­sion on downs when Navy line­backer Micah Thomas stopped tail­back Don­trell Hil­liard for no gain on fourth and one. The Mid­ship­men took over at their 34-yard line with 8:25 to play in the third quar­ter.

Af­ter Tu­lane tied the score at 7 with a 19-yard touch­down run from Hil­liard early in the sec­ond quar­ter, the Mid­ship­men set­tled for Austin Grebe’s 25-yard field goal to re­claim the lead. Navy had reached the 3-yard line fac­ing first and goal, but Reynolds lost one yard, and on third down, full­back Shawn White was dropped for a five-yard loss to the 8.

Tu­lane nar­rowly missed a chance to take the lead in the clos­ing sec­onds of the first half. Lee lofted a pass into the left cor­ner of the end zone, and wide re­ceiver Devon Breaux at­tempted a div­ing re­cep­tion, but the ball came loose as he was go­ing to the ground. Breaux was wide open af­ter run­ning past se­nior cor­ner­back Quincy Adams.

A hold­ing call pushed the Green Wave back to the 31, and the first half ended with place kicker Trevor Simms miss­ing a 49-yard field goal at­tempt that landed right and well short.

“We made the ad­just­ment. We knew we had to throw the foot­ball to move the foot­ball,” said Reynolds (7-for-11 pass­ing, 134 yards, no in­ter­cep­tions), who started af­ter hurt­ing his leg in a 41-24 loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago but was able to rest dur­ing a bye. “We prac­tice it all the time, so it wasn’t like it was a com­pletely new deal.”

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Navy quar­ter­back Keenan Reynolds, run­ning for a first down in the sec­ond quar­ter, rushed for two touch­downs and passed for 134 yards.

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